NSM Focus | Alumnus in the picture: ‘I learnt a lot about my strengths and weaknesses’

Date of news: 25 June 2020

Ruud Penders (25) briefly considered studying Civil Engineering, but he was not very keen on mathematics. The debate lessons he took in his fourth year of secondary school led him to Political Science. How has he fared since?

Why did you choose to study in Nijmegen?
“My older sister and brother were already studying at the time and they advised me to look at different places. I didn’t like Amsterdam, Leiden was too far away – I come from Dieteren, close to Sittard – but Nijmegen immediately appealed to me, as did the accessibility of the Political Science programme.”

What is the most important thing you learned in your studies?
“That you should always be open to other people’s perspectives and opinions, both in global and in personal matters. You can look at everything from a Western perspective, or you can try to reason from the viewpoint of China or Ukraine. Try to see things from your interlocutor’s perspective. Why don’t they see what you see? If you look carefully, you’ll notice that, 80% of the time, people agree with each other, and that most of them, like you, are trying to make the world a slightly better place.”

In your second year, you became Chairman of the study association Ismus. Was it useful?

“Useful and great fun! I thought the role of chairman was out of my league, but a senior student convinced me to go for it. I’m still grateful for that. I did a good job and that year taught me a lot about my strengths and weaknesses.”

You completed an internship at the heart of political life, but decided not to follow a Master’s programme in Political Science. Why?
“My internship with Member of the House of Representatives Raymond Knops was really interesting, but all in all I found the work too policy-focused. Since Public Administration takes a more concrete approach than Political Science, I decided to conclude my studies with a Master’s in Public Administration.”

How did you end up working at ProRail?
“After attending a lecture at the Public Administration study association BOW by Roger van Boxtel, CEO of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), I was excited about working for the railway. It was so concrete. But NS had no openings for graduates at the time. When Raymond Knops heard about my wish, he brought me into contact with the interim CEO of ProRail. So was able to complete my dream internship after all. After that, I stayed on as a trainee. When the position of Advisor for Public Affairs and Stakeholder Management opened up three months later, a friend of mine said: ‘It sounds like the perfect job for you; you should apply.’ I thought I wouldn’t stand a chance, as a trainee. But he insisted: ‘Just go for it!’ That was three years ago.”

What does an Advisor for Public Affairs and Stakeholder Management do?
“I maintain close contacts with ProRail’s national stakeholders – Members of the House of Representatives, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, and labour unions. I try to keep them abreast of ProRail’s plans, activities, and narratives in order to avoid ‘trouble’. Delays due to major maintenance, weed control, or a level crossing accident: everyone has an opinion about the railway. I like to explain to people how things work in practice, or better still, to show them what we do and why, so they can see it for themselves.”

What would you advise students looking for their dream job now?
“Despite the high costs of your study programme, try to look for something to do alongside your studies. Look around, be pro-active, join the board of an association, organise a conference. This will bring you useful and beautiful experiences. If you graduated recently and are looking for a job, pick up your phone, use your contacts, make appointments, and go see people. Don’t be afraid. Don’t think: ‘They’re probably too busy to see me.’ And don’t ever think that you can’t do it. Just go for it. It’s OK to make mistakes.”